Language Fail, American Idol style

Not to be outdone, my husband (who blogs over here), shared this one with me. Oh dear.

(Welcome to Saturday morning at our house)

Barbara has been working for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for about 15 years. In addition to teaching Spanish she runs a somewhat unconventional language center. Prior to this adventure in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and watch the Red Sox. Preferably not all at once, although that could be interesting. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. Joseph Kautz · December 8, 2009 Reply

    “Imperfection is paradise”
    An ESL instructor showed this clip to me some time ago, and I was struck at the cruelty and pettiness of the judges. This clip hit a nerve. The judges reminded me of a couple of Russian teachers I had in grad school who employed the “Shame students into silence so they don’t make mistakes” methodology to great effect. One of these instructors actually asked her 2nd year students NOT to talk because they made too many mistakes. These instructors had one thing in common, despite living in the US for more than a decade, they couldn’t speak English.
    I love opera but I’m too lazy to actually do the work to UNDERSTAND what is being sung. Jesse Norman could sing ‘Ken Lee” (and she might as well be) and I’d feel lucky to have heard it from her instrument. I realize this is a singing contest and affective filter issues are not really part of the program, but every part of me wants to jump to Valentina’s defense. I have to wonder how well the judge had mastered Bulgarian’s complex system of grammatical moods, or whether she had Bulgarian’s clitics and definite article postfixes down. Even Maria Carey herself gives Valentina props for her “chutzpah” saying “…anyone who had the courage to go on television and sing in front of such a wide audience deserved a round of applause.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Lee_(song)

    Interestingly Valentina’s humanness and guts spawned a proliferation of parodies and other creative works. “Imperfection is paradise.” a friend of mine used to say.

    I have sat through Russian operas with American singers whose Russian accents are so heinous as to cause cochlear trauma.

  2. Barbara · December 8, 2009 Reply

    Ah Joseph, where have you been? We have missed you!

    Indeed, I think the point here is less about trying to humiliate Valentina (thank you for telling me her name), or to condone the judges’ extraordinary rudeness.

    Actually, I think it would be interesting if the Idol folks used this example and inverted it: what if they chose to ask their contestants to perform songs in a language other than their own? We got close to that with the auditions in Puerto Rico…although if memory serves they all sang in English. There is so much more that could be done.

    Imagine: if Carrie Underwood had to sing in French? Adam Lambert in Chinese? Daughtry in Russian? Ruben Studdard in Japanese? Wouldn’t that have been an interesting experiment… it will probably would never happen given the audience that watches these shows (we are talking the Fox network here) and what little they prolly understand about the nuances of language. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the contestants judged not only on their theatrics (I am talking to you, Lambert), but also the clarity of their intonation in a language ither than their own?

    Wouldn’t that be interesting.

  3. Joseph Kautz · December 8, 2009 Reply

    Thanks Barbara. I had assumed from memory that the female judge was not Bulgarian. In fact she is, or at least she speaks Bulgarian. What a great idea to add a multilingual element to Idol. You’d think it might even be a good strategy in song selection. Ma ia hi, Ma ia hoo, Ma ia ha, Ma ia haha!

  4. barbara · December 9, 2009 Reply

    Ah yes…sing along…

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